A 19th century pickpocket fleeces New York

Criminals in the 19th century had such illustrious nicknames.

Take Old Mother Hubbard, for instance. Reportedly born in 1828 in Ireland as Margaret Brown, she came to the U.S. and found work as a housekeeper—then embarked on a 50-year side career as a notorious pickpocket and shoplifter.

“She makes a specialty of opening hand-bags, removing the pocket-book, and closing them again,” states Professional Criminals of America, written by NYPD head Thomas Byrnes in 1886.

Old Mother Hubbard stole pretty much anything she could in Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and she practiced her craft typically dressed in black silk.

After a stint in prison in Illinois, she arrived in New York City in 1884 and joined the inner circle of top fence Marm Mandelbaum. But not for long.

That year, she was nabbed stealing a purse from a shopper at Macy’s, then on 14th Street (left) and booked at Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth Avenue.

Described as a “white-haired, wrinkled woman” by The New York Times, she served three months at Blackwell’s Island.

Upon her release, she was rearrested for crimes committed in Boston and sentenced to prison.

The official record goes cold after that—perhaps she died in a Boston jail.

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4 Responses to “A 19th century pickpocket fleeces New York”

  1. Lady G. Says:

    Why is it that criminals of the past are romanticized? Sometimes the historical accounts make them sound so charming. Can you imagine a hundred years from now doing that to the likes of known criminals today? I guess they felt the same back then. Those scoundrels! She had quite a scam going on. Probably pretended to be the sick, old grandma at times or feigned the vapors and ‘madness’ if she were caught. Great post.

  2. Dave Says:

    Yeah, 100 years from now people will recognize the Romneys and Edwardses for the crooks they are.

  3. Dave Says:

    I meant “won’t,” of course…

  4. Smart advice from an 1871 New York travel guide | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] above came at the right time. The 19th century city was overrun by pickpockets, many working in gangs composed of women or kids and targeting tourists on crowded street […]

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